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Leafs2021

Why are so many lawyers miserable?

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Excluding the long hours and difficult work which aren't really exclusive to the legal profession, what else causes so many lawyers to burn out quickly and end up hating what they do? 

Edited by Leafs2021
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The long hours, the difficult work, the combative nature of it all, the stakes for your clients, etc, etc. You can’t exclude the long hours and difficult work - that literally contributes to burnout. In law the culture expects that you’re fine with having no work-life balance, and it can be tough to keep up with that pressure. 

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The reality, too, is there's an element of this in every profession. As you get older and move along in your career the demands pile up, the responsibility grows and the older you get the more you'll find your tolerance for bullshit decreases exponentially. To say nothing of the demands of family, mortgage, bills... basically being an adult. 

That's not to suggest there aren't elements that are unique to the practice of law that make burnout rates faster, or hit harder or be more difficult to adjust for. Just pointing out that it's not an entirely unique to law situation either, so the reasons behind it may not entirely be because of law either

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10 minutes ago, Veggie77 said:

The reality, too, is there's an element of this in every profession. As you get older and move along in your career the demands pile up, the responsibility grows and the older you get the more you'll find your tolerance for bullshit decreases exponentially. To say nothing of the demands of family, mortgage, bills... basically being an adult. 

That's not to suggest there aren't elements that are unique to the practice of law that make burnout rates faster, or hit harder or be more difficult to adjust for. Just pointing out that it's not an entirely unique to law situation either, so the reasons behind it may not entirely be because of law either.

I agree. Pretty much anyone who is making ~100k+ is busting their ass. Doesn't matter about the profession. 

I'm sure if you are willing to make less, 60 to 90k a year, there are law jobs that are fulfilling with work life balance. I.e. non practicing law professors in smaller colleges/universities.

The more responsibilities, the more money, the more headaches.

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9 minutes ago, Starling said:

 

Agreed with a lot of what Starling said. From my personal experience, lawyers work "harder" than many people making similar or higher compensation, largely for 2 reasons:

  • Urgency of client demands: At least in transactional work, I find lawyers are often the last people on the deal team to find out something needs to be done. While the client is anxious about having something completed late at night or on the weekend, the lawyer is the one madly scrambling to work on it.
  • Billable hour targets: the need to appear busy and actually work for 7-8 hours a day can get exhausting. There was a study that showed most people work 4.5-5 hours a day out of an 8 hour work day. I would wager most lawyers need to work between 6 and 6.5 hours out of 8, if not more, to hit their targets. Also, any time you ask another lawyer how it's going, I can guarantee their answer will include some comment about how busy they are.

The trade-off is that you often take less "career risk" than many other professions (although you are still taking some). Law generally has a higher salary floor than most professions and a fairly well-defined path to yearly raises. 

Edited by hitman9172
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Can any females chime in about practicing law and leaving temporarily to have children? I am worried about this - starting law school in my late 20's means that, probably right after law school, I will plan on starting a family. Wondering about how this will impact my future career, especially since I want to work in biglaw. 

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39 minutes ago, Relentless2017 said:

Can any females chime in about practicing law and leaving temporarily to have children? I am worried about this - starting law school in my late 20's means that, probably right after law school, I will plan on starting a family. Wondering about how this will impact my future career, especially since I want to work in biglaw. 

This is a good thread to start

 

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lol... no, I get it. And no offence taken. I'm too old and crusty for too much to penetrate my thick skin anymore ;)

Going back to the element of the OP's question, I think what I've been trying to express is that some of the answer is "law stuff" and some of the answer is "just life". Because to be honest a lot of the answers I hear from lawyers about burn out are the same answers I hear from other professionals who have a similar level of responsibility and demands in their lives. I think there's a part of people's expectations that they're going to work really, really hard for a time, achieve a certain level and then it will get "easy". And then when "easy" doesn't come it just becomes draining. And exhausting. And awfully damn tempting to just say fuck it all and run away to an island somewhere and sell coconuts on a beach. 

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10 hours ago, Hegdis said:

There's a personality type attracted to law that isn't great with things like self care, slowing down, or admitting limitations. And law doesn't do a great job of checking in on those things

I couldn’t agree with this more. :)

I have noticed that in the pool of legal professionals I work with (lawyers and paralegals), the more senior professionals are aware and promote self care to the younger staff...but almost like a right of passage we end up needing to go through it to really understand. 

We run on adrenaline and there is a bit if a high that comes from it. What goes up has to eventually come down. Knowing and planning for this can help cushion the fall.

There should be more emphasis on self-care. We can better serve our clients when we take the time we need for ourselves. Having healthy stress outlets AND taking the time to use them allows us to work smarter, harder, and just generally be more pleasant to be around.

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22 hours ago, Hegdis said:

There's a personality type attracted to law that isn't great with things like self care, slowing down, or admitting limitations. And law doesn't do a great job of checking in on those things.

Yes, I've been miserable since I was ~14. Now I am a lawyer but I was miserable long before I became a lawyer. There is a chicken-and-egg dynamic. 

I don't like teamwork and I don't like the vulnerability that comes with admitting that I am ignorant about something. I am not great at long term planning and have never been good at forming healthy habits. I am in a constant fight with my own apathy. I've known these things since I was young. 

Actually, I think I am less miserable now that I am a grown up lawyer with a family.

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Hmm.

My $0.02.

I think many lawyers appear to be miserable because they are essentially wearing golden handcuffs they didn't know were on before they snapped shut.

Comparable earners in other professions typically have more years of work experience and are often promoted into those higher salaries. This usually means they thrived in previous roles and chose to pursue a more challenging, higher paying one. By contrast, in law you get there simply by sticking around and not being bad at your job for a shorter amount of time. Your title doesn't change. Your salary and responsibilities simply go up every year that you tough it out without disaster. 

You don't have to be thriving in any meaningful sense to get to a place where you've got way too much work but the money is too good to walk away from i.e. golden handcuffs.

In other professions, a significant chunk of high-income jobs are in higher-level/management positions. People holding those jobs essentially self select into them after having many years to evaluate things like work-life balance, salary expectations and life-style. They see the handcuffs, they choose the handcuffs. In law, it's the opposite. You have to decide to self-select out of the higher-income, higher-responsibility roles, and we're often making that choice with far less and in many cases, no work experience at all.  

In many instances, lawyers find themselves wearing golden handcuffs before understanding what the hell it is.

So, ironically, proportionally more miserable lawyers might have something to do with the speed at which salary progression happens.

I end all this by saying I have done exactly zero research into this and I am drawing mainly from anecdotal evidence and my general observations from other industries I have been in.

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